Sam McIlroy: Former steelworker looks back on transition to rewarding technical sales career

When work suddenly halted in the steel industry, Sam McIlroy ‘94 pivoted to a new path of education that opened the door to a new career path.

“I went back to re-train at Mohawk College after Stelco went on strike in 1990,” he says. “After a summer upgrading to a Grade 13 equivalent, I wrote the mature student exam at Mohawk and was accepted.”

Returning to school as a mature student with a solid career wasn’t easy. With other mature students by his side and his educational journey set out for him, Sam made it work to his advantage.

Sam says, “I completed the 2-year Mechanical Engineering Technician – Fluid Power Automation program first, followed by the 3-year Mechanical Engineering Technology program. I began in third semester of the latter program as I had completed the prior program. The co-op placement I had in my second program turned into a full-time job that I worked at for 20 years.”

Today, students enrolled in the Manufacturing Engineering Technician - Automation (Industrial Mechanic Millwright) and Mechanical Engineering Technology programs can expect to receive updated offerings of the same quality education that Sam received. Both programs offer cutting-edge knowledge of the trades along with options for continuation. Mohawk consistently updates programs to ensure our students continue to be future-ready.

After completing five years of education in a shortened time span, Sam had gained a whole new level of academic knowledge about the industry. However, his passion had changed. While he initially wanted to return to the world of steel, Sam found a new path for the future as he finished his college journey.

“The co-op placement I had secured is what influenced my decision to switch from the steel industry to technical sales,” he says. “Mohawk’s Co-op program helped me immensely with this transition.”

For two decades, Sam drove technical sales at the same employer that he completed his co-op placement. There have been many rewarding milestones along the way, all of which center around helping the people around him succeed.

Sam says, “For me, the reward in sales is helping people and solving problems for customers. In the earlier years of this role, I appreciated the technical aspects of helping customers and building relationships that have lasted many years. Now, I see the difference in managing people and helping them develop and take on more challenging roles. It’s never the same day twice.”

Today, Sam works as the Automation Group Sales Manager with Gerrie Electric, one of Mohawk’s Future Ready Premium Employers. He feels it is the best blend of his former trade and present passion.

Sam says, “I’ve always been a technical, hands-on person and was very interested in industrial automation, so the fact that Gerrie is a distributor for electrical automation is fantastic. Plus, the relationship between Gerrie and Mohawk is valued as Gerrie continues to scout Mohawk graduates to join the Gerrie Electric family."

In an industry that has been the catalyst for vast digital transformation, including the recent introduction of artificial intelligence, the electrical industry is increasingly essential. For those looking to join this particular workforce, Sam has some key advice.

“At the college level, try to find your way and keep all your options open,” he says. “Get exposure to a variety of different things until you truly find your passion. You don’t have to do the first thing you study. Find you passion and your job won’t be work.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The aforementioned ‘Mechanical Engineering Technician – Fluid Power Automation’ program is now called ‘Manufacturing Engineering Technician - Automation (Industrial Mechanic Millwright)’.]